Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fatherlessness As Child Abuse?

La Shawn Barber makes the case for the statement.
That’s not a popular position to hold. What’s doubly sad is that criticizing people who deprive children this way is worse than actually depriving the children. Why? Please explain.

Losing a father through death is awful, but it’s not the same as losing him through divorce or being born into a fatherless home. In whichever case, a child will feel abandoned, but losing a father through divorce and being deprived of one from birth are deliberate acts of abandonment, worse than death in a sense. When a family loses a father through death, they keep his memory alive. His authority lingers. The children grow up knowing he loved them and their mother, made sacrifices for their well being, and did not walk out on them to pursue his own interests.

Three out of four black babies are born in the United States to women who aren’t married to the fathers. Fatherlessness leads to a multitude of problems, the worst of which is the repeated cycle of fatherlessness. You’ve read the studies. Even if you haven’t, you’ve seen firsthand the effects of fatherlessness on children, especially boys.

Despite what selfish and shameless adults think, children want fathers. They need fathers. They need masculine men in their lives who love them and would do anything to protect them, men who live with them, raise them, and sacrifice for them. Millions of children grow up without being loved or care for by the men who sired them. It makes me angry, bitterly so.
I believe that La Shawn has a point, however, I have to treat the case of divorce a little differently. (Note: later in her post La Shawn notes that divorce due to domestic violence or sexual/physical is the right thing to do).

Raising a child in a fatherless household from the start may not meet the legal definition of child abuse, but I can see La Shawn's case, not that from a legal standpoint it is likely to happen. But "fatherlessness" due to divorce is a little tricky though. Are some divorces based on the "selfishness" of the parents? I am positive of that. But by the same token, some divorces actually create better parents because the parents themselves are happier with their lives and thus better able to provide loving care and guidance without the drama infused by bickering parents. If the parents, whether married or divorced, put the welfare of their child first, and put the requisite time and energy into raising that child, then does it really matter if the parents are married? Can a father not provide adequate guidance for a child even if he lives in another home? Does not a child feel the love of a devoted father, whether that father is there or not?

Building on La Shawn's dead father memory, what about fathers who are absent for extended periods of time, whether due to military service or other jobs that require travel? The military dad or traveling dad is not only alive and more or less guaranteed to return, but provides a role model of sacrifice for the family/country that is a model of selflessness.

Now that should be contrasted with the divorced family where one parent, usually the father, suddenly does not become a regular part of the child's life. That produces the fatherlessness that I think La Shawn has a right to properly criticize. That our society has deemed this an acceptable model somewhat decries the unofficial motto of family courts, i.e. "what is best for the child."

I think La Shawn unfairly conflates the fatherlessness issue with the homosexual marriage issue. I do believe that kids raised in homosexual relationships can be well loved. I do think that children of homosexual couples need both mother and father figures and I think such parents should make an effort to ensure that such figures are available on a regular basis. But again, La Shawn makes a good point about the selfishness of some parents. Just because a parent has a particular sexual orientation does not mean they abdicate their role as parent. The Rosie O'Donnell example is too easy to criticize as selfish.

It is easy to become a biological father and harder to become a societal father. But the courts, if they become involved, tend to take the easy way out, allowing absentee parents (usually fathers) to "fulfill their parental obligations" by simply making a monthly child support payment. In return, the father gets a few days a month to be a parent. But this is too easy, it is like the child visiting a favority aunt or uncle, a family figure that can "spoil the child" for a few days and then the child goes back home. The absentee father is given a free pass from the hard part of parenting. They get to be the "cool" parent that does fun things for a few days, but does not have to make the hard decisions, does not have to say no or deal with real parenting.

To a certain extent I blame the family courts for this. I think family courts should do a better job of not just requiring financial child support but also fatherly support. Ordering a father to pay money to a mother for support of the child has become the legal substitute for actually requiring a father to parent a child and our society may be better off if more family courts started ordering more time of an absent parent in addition to the money.

But society as a whole, mothers who permit the slacking of fathers and grandparents who do so also, need to shoulder a fair amount of the blame. I am not sold on the idea that fatherlessness is akin to child abuse, but fatherlessness does abuse society and we are a whole lot worse off because of it.

No comments: